As I have spoken about previously, we are currently enjoying our third posting to the US. This has had consequences and benefits regarding our kids schooling. As an Australia family our school year follows the calendar – school begins at the end of January and finishes mid-December. The school year is broken into 4 Terms with holidays in April, June/July, Sept/Oct and then 6 weeks from Mid-December until the end of January.
Our eldest started kindergarten in Hawaii during our first posting o/s and then on our return, she completed Grade 4, 5 and part of 6. Our middle one, completed Grade 2, 3 and part of 4 whilst our son started kindergarten.
This time around we had to make a compromise with our eldest regarding high school and her ability to graduate back in Australia with the required credits to enable her to chase her dreams following school. This meant instead of going forward she had to repeat the final few months of Grade 9 (she had already completed in Australia prior to our arrival) – this means she will be graduating a year later than her peers. This girls is amazing though – she listened to the advice we had received from one of her highly regarded teachers from Darwin, two work colleagues of mine (Principal & Teacher) and also a teacher friend of ours, the decision was met with a high about of trepidation and at times anger but once the decision was made, she ran with it.
Our other two were simple. The middle one went forward into Grade 8 and the youngest returned to redo the final few months of Grade 4 – this kept them with their peers, and will all line up for our return home.
Schooling in the US is completely different than schooling in Australia for many reasons:-
Elementary, Middle School and High School
Elementary and Middle Schools are located on the large Military bases and the standard of school in most areas is of a higher standard than off post. At some locations there are more than one Elementary school and placement will be allocated related to on post housing location and if living off post you will also be assigned a specific school. High Schools are located off post and will be a mixture of surrounding local feeder schools and those coming from off post. In some locations, Elementary school finishes in Grade 5 and there is a purpose built Grade 6 centre where all Grade 5 students will feed into for the school year.
School generally commences mid-August and finishes the end of May. This of course is location based and some schools do not commence until mid-late September. Other important things to note particularly about on post school is they regularly have early release or late start days to enable staff development. School also tends to start earlier 0740-0800 will a finish time of 1500-1515).
Everything is graded! Classwork, homework, participation and assignments. The class grade and GPA for High School changes daily and the system is generally A+ to F to U. Whilst this is great in enabling the student and parents to see their progress, any missing work etc it is also reliant on the teaching staff imputing the correct information and correcting along the way. Teachers have enough to do daily.
One of the great benefits of schooling in the US is the vast array of available subjects for Middle and High School students to study. Many of these are not available in Australia and provide a different opportunity for learning something new and possible specific to career goals. Many are study for either a semester or a full year.
There is also many options that as Aussies we find a little odd……Math is one. Math is integrated for Elementary and early Middle School however from Grade 8 is taught as a broken down subject. You either do Algebra I, Algebra II or Geometry. This is something I have particular issue with and would have preferred that Math continued to be integrated until Grade 11 and 12 (Junior and Senior year) – continuance of building on Math skills.
Math for us was a particular sticky situation and it took a lot of patience and some shuffling for all of our kids. The transition from not only metric to imperial but for the older girls what they had learnt in Australia under an integrated Math subject didn’t line up with the required Math options here. Thankfully we were able to ‘shuffle’ and have them placed in a Math option that enabled them to begin the whole subject and not play catch up completely.
The science subjects are also integrated for Elementary and early Middle School before a break into more specific science areas – Biology, Honours Biology, Chemistry and Physics.
Other great options are JROTC and Debate which also compete locally, district, State and National also. Both are amazing programs with great opportunities and possibilities.
High School Graduation
Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia all have a have minimum high school graduation requirement while Colorado, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania leave high school graduation requirements up to local districts. Each student is required to complete a certain about of subject semesters with credits to graduate high school. The best place for advice is the School Guidance office as it is quite a confusing process.
Big topic…..lunches in the US school system is something that as Aussie it is completely unfamiliar, frustrating and laughable at times. Lunch times of course vary for each school across all levels and is held in the school cafeteria. Students have the option of taking a home lunch or purchasing from the cafeteria. The food is interesting to say the least, however it is a cheap option and the novelty at first may be exciting for the students. You may find this wears off fairly quickly and lunch boxes will again need to be purchased and packed. Some Middle Schools and High Schools have menu options including salad bars which can make it a lot more palatable.
Eating times are generally very early too with no recess in between school starting and lunch – our kids come home famished every day.
One of the biggest differences our Aussie kids struggle with is the lack of outside time, particularly where we are currently. Due to lunches being eaten inside and either no or very short recess (play no food) time the kids really miss the ability and freedom to run around, kick a footy or even just walk and talk. We have been fortunate that the two schools in the US the kids have been enrolled at outside time was planned daily. For us Aussies outside time is planned in the school day, we eat our lunches outside, we do recess which involves a snack and play time. One of the greatest examples of the importance of outside time was our primary school in Sydney when Miss C was in Grade 4 – their teacher Mr T took the whole class every morning outside where they walked laps around the oval for about 15 minutes, this let the kids stretch their legs and get some jiggles out before class but it also gave them a last minute chance to get all their chatting out – it worked great.
Sport is massive in Middle and High School – think every tv show that you may have ever seen that involved high school sport in the US (One Tree Hill, Friday Night Lights, Greece). The try outs, the training, the home and away games, the playoffs, homecoming, concession stands, band, cheerleaders, JROTC, the mums with the kids face printed on their t-shirt, the banners, the tailgates – it’s all there. Sport options are amazing (not all offered at each school):-
Thankfully we are a sport loving family and wish that sport was more incorporated into the Elementary schools too, particularly for grade 5 and 6). Our middle one has been training and playing sport like crazy this past year (Volleyball and Basketball) and both girls have just commenced Football (soccer).
The training schedules have been insane and will continue that way for Football, everyday day 1630-1900 and will include home and away games, fundraising events and team dinners for the next three months. The facilities are amazing with schools having incredible stadiums, courts, full gyms, locker rooms and access to a physiotherapist also.
Vaccination Schedules and Enrolments
Each school district and State has their own enrolment requirements and vaccination schedules to be followed. At times this can be particularly frustrating due to Australia having a great vaccination program. If you are not fully vaccinated by their schedule, enrolment may be declined and if the child has commenced school may be unable to return to school until fully vaccinated per their schedule. I had many heated discussions with our Elementary school nurse concerning Australia’s vaccination schedule and the implications that our son received a vaccination two months earlier than the State of Kansas stipulated. It was all sorted, he received another jab and we got on with it. If you are posting away from Australia, I strongly suggest you research the vaccination schedule and policy for the state where you will be located – they do vary greatly.
There are many differences between schooling in Austalia and the US, the biggest issues for our family has been math and the lack of outdoor time and eating times. With our girls doing sport, they leave the house at 0700 for school and are not returning home until close to 1930. They pack protein shakes and a snack to have before training but they are super hungry when they walk in the door as they have eaten lunch just after 1100. For our boy, he too is super hungry but he is home for a quick snack around 1530 before heading to golf.
I have spoken to many parents and teachers about the lack of outdoor time that we currently experience. Some is due to the extreme cold weather but the kids rug up and could enjoy at least a quick run around, other reasons are due to timings. All kids need to have a break, they all need to run and to be given a chance to reset their brains and bodies to ensure they are given every possibility to retain information and perform at their best.
There is a mountain of research showing the importance of food breaks and also the order in which works best. At our previous school in Darwin we were fortunate to have amazing administrators who saw a need to change and were proactive in finding good research and solutions to ensure the students were given these options. All students were able to enjoy a ‘brain break’ of fruit or veg snack at approx. 0930, recess followed about 1030 where the students were let out to play before toilet break/handwashing and eating time. Lunch followed the same routine, play time, toilet break/handwashing and eating time. The change was remarkable. The students enjoyed the chance to catch up with the friends, play soccer, tag, before happily sitting down to eat. Students then returned to the classroom settled and ready to learn again. I wish this system was in place here too.
Overseas posting offer families a lifetime of memories and experiences that we may not in Australia. If you are in line for an overseas posting, especially with school aged children do your research and jump in. The benefits far outweigh any negatives.
Thank you for reading my little snapshot in to schooling in the US on posting from Australia. As always, thank you for following the journey:)
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